Consider a Career Working with People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Erin Vande HeiIf you are exploring job options or looking to change careers, consider becoming a vision services professional. This field provides the opportunity to work with people of all ages and walks of life, make a difference and teach new skills. Read on to learn more about the field and find out if it might be a good fit for you.

Did You Know? Vision services professionals are in demand nationwide. This will continue as it is estimated that the number of people with visual impairments is going to double by 2030, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Could Work as a Vision Services Professional Be a Good Fit for Me?

If you can answer any or all of the following questions with a “Yes,” a vision services professional career might be for you.

  • Do you enjoy working with people, individually or in small groups?
  • Do you like to teach and guide others to learn?
  • Are you a good problem solver?
  • Are you creative?
  • Are you willing to think outside of the box?
  • Does adaptive technology intrigue you?
  • Do you want to make a difference in someone’s life?

Take some time to think over these questions. It might be helpful to write or audio-record your thoughts. The field of vision services is broad and your new career could take many forms.

What is the Vision Services Field Like Overall?

Vision services professionals work with people across the life span from infants to senior citizens. They work in public and private schools, homes, blindness training centers, rehabilitation centers and community-based organizations. They interface with family members and other professionals, such as classroom teachers, medical personnel, vocational rehabilitation counselors, case managers, job coaches and social workers.

Possible career paths include:

  • Vision rehabilitation therapist: Teaches adaptive techniques for everyday tasks.
  • Orientation and mobility specialist: Teaches independent travel skills.
  • Teacher of the visually impaired: Works with students to effectively participate in all aspects of classroom learning and teaches braille and assistive technology.
  • Low vision therapist: Provides low vision evaluations and assists people in using their remaining vision effectively.
  • Assistive technology specialist: Provides training to use adaptive technology such as smart phones, screen-reader and magnification software on computers, and other devices like braille displays and digital recorders.

Within each career title, there is much variation, and what you do depends on your work setting and the population you serve. This article gives information about teachers of the visually impaired, vision rehabilitation therapists and orientation and mobility specialists. To learn more about other vision services professions, visit the website of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AERBVI).

What Do Vision Services Professionals Do?

A teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) is typically a person with a teaching license in general or special education. This person has additional specialized training to meet the educational needs of students who have vision loss. A TVI may teach in a classroom where all students have a vision impairment, work as a consultant to classroom teachers who have a student with vision loss in their classroom, and provide small group and individual lessons to students. TVIs identify learning strategies, techniques and materials for all aspects of the curriculum, from spelling to physics, and from music to physical education. In addition, they teach Braille, adaptive technology and independent and community living skills.

Erin Vande Hei

Hear from a TVI:

“My favorite aspect of my job is working with my students,” says Erin Vande Hei, who has been an itinerant (traveling) TVI for sixteen years. “I knew I wanted to teach children with visual impairments since I was in high school. I love being able to talk and bond with my students, since I have a visual impairment as well.”

A vision rehabilitation therapist works with adults who are blind or visually impaired. They provide information, resources and training in adaptive techniques and the application of assistive products and technology used in everyday life. They teach communication skills, such as texting on a smart phone, downloading audio books onto a tablet, using keyboard shortcuts to move around a computer, and employing a magnifier for spot reading. Vision rehabilitation therapists instruct and guide an individual’s learning of daily living skills, including food preparation, labeling and establishing a medication routine. They also help find adaptive techniques for organizing clothing and applying makeup in preparation for work, home management, and leisure and recreation activities.

Hear from a Vision Rehabilitation Therapist:

“I love watching my clients get to those ‘aha’ moments and those times where something just clicks for them,” explains Jennifer Ottowitz, a certified vision rehabilitation therapist who is herself visually impaired. “I recently was working with a client teaching him how to load paper into a Braillewriter. It took a while, but once he was able to get that paper in, he had a sense of relief and joy. It was great to see that.”

An orientation and mobility specialist works with persons with vision loss with the goal of traveling safely, confidently and independently in their environments. This might mean encouraging a toddler to explore sounds in their home, teaching an elementary student the route from the classroom to the cafeteria, working with a college student to navigate campus buildings, helping an employee get around a work site, or teaching an older adult to safely cross a busy traffic intersection to get to the walking path at a local park. Orientation and mobility specialists teach white cane skills and incorporate technology, such as way finding using apps or GPS devices or scheduling an Uber ride.

Hear from an Orientation and Mobility Specialist:

“I enjoy the creativity I need to use in my job,” says Kay Rhode, who has been a certified orientation and mobility specialist for 13 years. “If I have a concept I want my student to learn, I need to think about how to best deliver it to that person. Everyone is unique and has a different learning style.”

How can I Become a Vision Services Professional?

Most careers require a Master’s degree to enter the vision services field. Explore which schools offer vision services professional degrees. There are not many, and some programs offer online classes. Some aspiring vision services professionals decide to get an undergraduate degree from a college or university close to home and enter a graduate program within their area of interest afterward.

AERBVI accredits vision professional programs and you can visit their website for a list. Explore and ask lots of questions, because there are other programs and routes of entry into these professions.

Consider doing an informational interview with a vision services professional. Check with your school district’s special education director to find teachers of the visually impaired and orientation and mobility specialists. Visit the websites of the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired, the Office for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Vision Forward Association , the Center for Sight and Hearing, and the Lighthouse Center for Vision Loss. There, you can find the names of vision rehabilitation therapists, low vision therapists, assistive technology specialists and orientation and mobility specialists. Contact those people and ask them to tell you about their work and why they find it meaningful. You may not be able to meet face-to-face, but can get a feel for their work through phone or email correspondence. Council Vision Services staff are open to talking with people who might be interested in going into our field.

To get an idea of job availability, visit the Job Exchange page of the AERBVI website.

If you have questions, contact Jean, the Council’s Education Program Specialist, at jkalscheur@WCBlind.org or (608) 237-8106.

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